Utah is currently a “seller’s market”, and the competition is fierce. Simply go on www.utahrealestate.com and keep track of how fast properties are going under contract – it’s usually a matter of 48h or so. Bid wars are very common, and buyers that are not prepared will lose out.
You are (probably) making the biggest purchase of your life, so take a little time to prepare. It can get overwhelming if you think about all the details, so I’ll break down the most information into 3 major steps:
Figure out your financing – the earlier you tackle any issues in this area, the better
Carefully decide on a real estate agent
Make your purchase offer stand out!
Step 1: Get Pre-Qualified. Even Better, Get Pre-Approved
The term “Pre-Approval” seems to be loosely used in the mortgage and real estate industry. But unless your loan application has been through underwriting, your loan is not Pre-Approved, it is Pre-Qualified.
A Pre-Qualification is a mortgage loan officer’s opinion that you qualify based on your credit profile, income and assets. Hopefully they also run your loan scenario through one of the automated underwriting systems that points out any potential deal breakers.
A Pre-Approval is the safer choice that eliminates “last minute surprises”, and you can do it based on a “to be determined” property address (meaning it’s not tied to a specific property address). This can carry a lot of weight with sellers needing to sell their home first in order to qualify for a new home purchase (virtually most people out there!).
If you are Pre-Approved, make sure your real estate agent explains this well to the listing agent, or include it in your cover letter. It doesn’t always carry the weight it should because agents and sellers don’t realize the huge benefits – very low risk of the loan not going through (don’t get fired!) and faster closings.
Whichever route you take, make sure your mortgage loan officer answers their phone.
Most of my borrowers make purchase offers over the weekend. I’ll often have listing agents call me to verify the terms of the Pre-Qualification or Pre-Approval. I always answer (or call them back as soon as possible) so I can both reassure them, and build a nice case for you – my borrower.
If your credit score is excellent, you can bet I’ll mention it.
If your down payment is significant, you can bet I’ll drop that in the conversation as well.
It may seems like a small detail, but listing agents don’t call me unless the sellers are trying to decide, and your offer is in their top 3. Instilling confidence in your financing ability might be exactly what’s needed to tip the scale in your favor, and get your purchase offer approved!
Get your financing in order, and work with a good (preferably local) mortgage loan officer. Also try to search for homes below your maximum budget, so that you have room to increase your purchase offer if needed. There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a home but not being able to compete on the price. OK, there are worse things out there, but it’s not that kind of article.
Insider Tip: Research your mortgage lender a bit before deciding on them. Don’t use them if the company has a lot of bad reviews, or disciplinary actions on the NMLS Consumer Access. Experienced reals estate agents have seen how various mortgage companies perform, and they know that the biggest issues come up with out of state “too-big-to-care” loan mills. Listing agents will warn the sellers if they personally had a bad experience, and your offer might be dismissed for this sole reason. Local is best, as it is easier to hold accountable
Apply online now to get started.
Step 2: Choose Your Real Estate Agent Wisely
Buyer’s agents have their work cut out for them in this market. If you ever thought they were making easy money, try showing people 10-20 houses before hopefully landing a purchase contract. And that’s an optimistic scenario!
What I’ve noticed is that some agents get homes under contract a lot faster than others. And while some borrowers can definitely be pickier and harder to please, the agent will actively make a difference each time.
Here are some qualities you should look for in your real estate agent:
Experience: I remember looking at homes with a friend of mine last year, and the market was about the same as now (crazy). Another potential buyer and his agent were there, filling out his offer in front of us. Ok, not in front of us, and I might have been eavesdropping
Consider that while my friend was planning on offering $5,000 over asking price with no seller paid closing costs, this other buyer was filling in an offer for asking price, $5,000 seller paid closing costs and an extended home warranty. His agent was just nodding and confirming with an optimistic (naive) look on his face.
That particular home went for $10,000 over asking price. Enough said.
Good reputation. While you may think your buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent are at each other’s throats, behind the scenes they are actually very courteous and helpful with each other (most times). The whole idea is to get to an agreement that benefits both sides, not to make enemies. After all, they’ve each been on both sides of the table at some point in their real estate careers.
Unfortunately, there are a number of agents that have built a reputation based on misleading practices and bullying other agents. This kind of reputation travels pretty fast in the real estate world, and it will also reflect on your offer. Don’t hire a-holes to represent you – you might be perceived as one.
Proactiveness. My life philosophy is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You will never get anywhere if you play strictly by the rules, and never stand out.
I have two very good examples of this:
A. Perfect home gets listed for sale on Tuesday, but won’t accept offers until Saturday, at the official open house. Talk about teasing! Proactive buyer’s agent knows that this is the perfect setup for a bid war, and her clients will likely lose out. She calls the listing agent, and presents her with an offer the sellers can’t refuse ($10,000 over asking price, no seller paid closing costs, really cute cover letter from her buyers!). She also attaches a deadline of 24h for the response, and she is prepared to withdraw it needed.
This is not guaranteed to work but guess what – the offer was accepted, financing went smooth and everyone was happy. Win win. Except for the buyers waiting around for the open house
B. House in a great location comes up for sale. There’s a bid war, and the borrower misses out. But he is absolutely in love with the neighborhood, and his agent is determined to get him a house in the area.
So what does she do? She sends letters to all the neighbors telling them about her client, and asking if they would be willing to sell. Turns out one family owning a second home there was just going through a divorce, and the timing was perfect. That home never got listed on the MLS, and the buyer got an amazing deal on the purchase price, without any competition! Talk about thinking outside of the box.
There is more to getting your offer approved in a seller’s market than simply throwing as much money as you can at a property. Make sure your agent goes to bat for you, and once you’ve made your choice, be sure to heed his/her advice. It may be your first rodeo, but it won’t be theirs. Allow them to do their job!
Step 3: Make Your Purchase Offer Stand Out
Again, I’m not talking about offering thousands over the asking price + your first born. Relax, Relax, nobody wants your first born.
Jokes aside, if you really love the house, you better put some effort and thought into your offer.
Here are some ideas based on my experience, as well as my online research of online articles and comments (the comments are a gold mine!)
Make Your Best Offer Up Front.
This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. It’s a seller’s market – we’ve established that. You know that there will be other buyers – lots of other buyers! You know that the property will go for over asking price, they almost always do.
What you don’t know is that not all sellers care about triggering a bid war. A lot of them would rather have a solid buyer, that promises to love and take care of their home. Be that solid buyer, and make the seller’s choice a no-brainer. You’ll end up offering that anyway, won’t you? Why not use this opportunity to stand out from the 20 or so offers they’ll get in the first day?
*Alway have your real estate agent check comparables home values. Do not put yourself in the position where you offer too much over asking price, hoping that the appraisal will come in lower, and you can re-negociate the purchase price. I can tell from (very recent) experience that the sellers doesn’t always lower the price – especially when they have a backup offer or two. The second buyer will have better leverage, but you’ll end up wasting time and money on the home inspection and appraisal.
Make a Large Down Payment If Possible.
How your financing looks like in the end depends solely on you. But consider providing the seller with proof of your available funds to close (such as a short letter from your bank).Include this with the cover letter I’ll talk about later in this article.
Higher down payment borrowers are usually guaranteed to have smoother purchase transactions, so sellers will tend to give them preference.
Limit contingencies or keep them short
Unless you are an all-cash buyer, it’s probably a bad idea to waive contingencies (such as due diligence, financing and appraisal). But that doesn’t mean you can’t sweeten your offer a bit.
Shortening the Due Diligence deadline for example.
I’m not a real estate agent, so I suggest reading this article for a more complete list of what you should check for while under due diligence. Also check the implications with your real estate agent.
For most people, the home inspection is the biggest concern. If this is the case for you, know that a home inspector generally takes 2-3 days to go out and perform an inspection, and results are usually available the same day (if not, look for a different home inspector!). Add a few days to present any requests for repairs to the sellers, and try to keep your due diligence between 7-10 days max (with the possibility of extending it should the circumstances require it).
If you’re already Pre-Approved, you’ve shaved at least a week off your loan process. Odds are you can be at the settlement table in 3 weeks or less – use it as an advantage, especially if you find out that the sellers are in a hurry to close.
Don’t ask for closing costs
There are 3 ways you can pay for your loan closing costs:
- Seller credit
- lender credit (in exchange for a higher interest rate)
- Bringing more $$$ to the closing table (in addition to your required down payment).
If you really want to be competitive, don’t ask for seller paid closing costs. It sucks, but it can be a deal breaker for your purchase offer, because closing costs lower the seller’s bottom line.
Increase your earnest money
Your earnest money is well protected by the Utah Standard Purchase Contract, but consider putting a bit more on the line if you’re serious about a property.
The most common earnest money deposit is $1,000 for the average $250,000 home, so consider increasing yours to $2,500. Don’t worry, is this is a USDA or VA loan with 100% financing, you’ll get it back at closing.
Don’t ask for personal property
Not only is it hard to have strangers come in and out of your home (often criticizing various things out loud), but imagine having them also demand your personal items.
How would you feel if someone offered to buy your home ONLY if you agree to include that beautiful vase on top of the fireplace? Which is actually your beloved grandmother’s Cremation Urn…
Various things in a house can have emotional value for their owners. You can offer to buy furnishings in order to make the seller’s move easier.. but don’t demand personal property. Furnishings should always be a separate transaction with its own bill of sale.
Include A Cover Letter With Your Purchase Offer
This is an absolute must in my opinion. Your cover letter should be personalized, but don’t just mindlessly rant on about yourself – focus on what the seller might want to see on there. It should be a good balance of touching an emotional cord and providing practical information on why you are a good choice.
Have your agent do a little research either by asking the listing agent questions, or by deducting things from the available public records. For example, how long the seller has owner the property can be a good indicator of his/her attachment to it.
With your purchase offer, attach a nice photograph of your family if possible. Maybe even a business card. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional and offer a personal service if you’re in a position to do so. See this article where free pizza for life won the deal.
Not everyone owns a pizzeria of course, but stand out by offering something that the seller might not necessarily expect (but will appreciate).
For example, you could let the seller stay in the home for FREE for a few weeks, up to 1 month after closing (check with both your lender and your real estate agent on the implications of this). Your first mortgage payment won’t be due for at least 1 month, so why not use this to your advantage? The seller might not take you up on it, but you can bet they will notice and appreciate that you offered.
Sometimes no matter what you do, you will still miss out on what seems like the perfect home.
While it may feel like a temporary tragedy, know that you can absolutely trust the hedonic adaptation – keep looking, keep trying, and you will eventually find what you need. Most people end up more than grateful with how things turned out, and the home they end up with.
If you really love the home but your offer wasn’t accepted, put a backup offer on the property. And if turn key simply has too much competition, consider a Renovation Loan for the homes that are in need of work.
Final thoughts – ask your agent if they are in the habit of using an Escalation Clause. This is a very handy tool in multiple bid situation, and for some reason, very few use it.
Roll up your sleeves and get to work. It’s time to buy a home!